Niko Kovac: "I expect a big game against Montpellier"
Everything is going well for AS Monaco at the start of 2021, with two victories in two games. The most recent one, against Angers, allowed Wissam Ben Yedder and his teammates to climb to fourth in the table. Niko Kovac, who praised the performance of the Red and Whites after the match, even offered that it was the best performance by his side since the start of the season. Before the trip to Hérault this Friday to face Montpellier (9 PM, behind closed doors) the Croatian manager gave the traditional pre-match press conference.
Coach, it’s an important match ahead. If you win, you would be eight points ahead of Montpellier.
Yes, this is an important match for us. For the time being, we are five points ahead of them this is therefore an opportunity to put some distance between ourselves them. Our goal is to play well and above all to win. They are in a difficult stretch, like we had been in December. We have rebounded well since then. Montpellier is expected to put in the work to come out of this series. When it comes to our ambitions, I’m looking more behind us than ahead. Above all, I wish that we don’t get overtaken. I’m expecting a good game from the players, the last match against this side October was not a very satisfactory performance. I hope it will be better than the reverse fixture — have to move forward.
The team has been rather inconsistent this season since the start of the season. How can you play at the same level as against Angers?
When I arrived, I told you that I needed time. Since then, we have had ups and downs. At mid-season we are fourth. The team knows what I expect from them, we often talk about it among ourselves. I want all eleven players to defend. After the game against Angers, we were very happy. We have to repeat this kind of performance every game. This is the level we want to show for the rest of the season, even if it is not easy to keep it for 90 minutes. We work every day to progress. The next game will not be easy.
Wissam Ben Yedder has been less efficient than at the start of the season. What are you doing to encourage him?
Wissam is our captain, we are trying to help him find his way back to getting among the goals. He is a goalscorer, so obviously he wants to score. I also have explained to him that it is partly thanks to him that Kevin is doing well. He runs a lot and gives the best of himself for the team. You might be surprised but in my opinion it was Wissam’s best game this season against Angers, especially on the defensive end. He played an important role in this victory. In my opinion, a goalscorer isn’t just for scoring. He is the first defender and he understands this very well. He will score soon enoug, I have no doubt about that.
How has he experienced this recent run of form?
I can’t say he’s happy because he’s not scoring, but he’s not downcast either. He is very serious in training, he always gives the best of himself. He is a great professional. He helps us at every match, we are a team. We win together, we lose together, we don’t just remember individual performances.
The top teams did not win at AS Monaco during the first part of the season, could this meeting be a trigger?
It’s hard to predict and to say that this can be a decisive game, I don’t know what’s going to happen unfortunately. We are trying to improve game after game. We have played all the teams in the league now. The team is progressing and their relationships have improved throughout the season. Against Lyon, it was a special match and against Lens also given the character of the match. But as for the others we were not far from getting a result, it played out in the details. We remained competitive. Montpellier is an important match, we have to bring back the three points. I expect a big game against Montpellier.
Cesc Fabregas — is he still injured?
He won’t be fit for Friday, we don’t want to risk him. This calf injury needs time to heal. He is an experienced player, he knows his body. At the moment we do not know the date of his return.
Sofiane Diop has been a revelation since the start of the season.
Yes, no one expected such progress. There are other examples of players going on loan to the second division and performing like this. His time at Sochaux did him a lot of good, it reminds me of my experience at Hertha Berlin in the German second division when I was a player. He’s progressed very quickly, he is very skilled with the ball. He was good on the defensive side against Angers, and that’s what I expect from him. In modern football you have to be good at all areas of the game. I hope he will keep that level.
Are you worried about French football? The present day is not easy with these empty stadiums and the Mediapro affair.
I’m focused on the pitch, but I know what’s going on. It is not good for football and the spectators. It’s very difficult in France at the moment and I hope that we will find the right solutions. It would be a disaster not to see Ligue 1 on TV.
Is a drop in wages a topic of conversation with your players?
No, we’re not talking about it. At the moment everything is fine, but I don’t know what will happen in the coming months. Oleg Petrov and Paul Mitchell are taking care of this. We are all concerned, we all have an interest in seeing football move forward.
Is it challenging to train in La Turbie with the current construction work?
Sometimes yes, when you explain instructions during training, it is not always easy to be understood. We try to alternate sessions between the training center and the Stade Louis-II. La Turbie is also up high so it’s quite a bit cold as well at the moment, that’s why we postponed the session. In six months, the work will be behind us.
Benjamin Lecomte is back as your number 1 goalkeeper?
Football is still a competition. Benjamin Lecomte is back. After two weeks of training, we made the choice to name him in the squad against Angers and to have him play. It’s a good situation for us. It allows the goalies to work even more. We need to have three competitive players, because this position can be the difference in taking points during a season.
Are you going to watch Paris-Marseille tonight?
Marseille have already beaten Paris this season, so why not a second time? We know that PSG are the best team in the championship, with lots of great players even though Lyon are top of the table. Our match against Marseille is fast approaching, I’ll watch it carefully on my sofa, with a glass of water.